We saw our families for the first time after more than a year away.
I earned the best job I’ve ever had.
I was published in one new literary journal.
I was exhibited in two new art galleries.
I was accepted into a prestigious novel-writing program.
I found a new place to live with my best friend / creative partner / husband.
I deepened fledgling friendships into true sisterhood.
I learned to boogie board in Maui, which scratched my itchy wild side in a way I haven’t felt since I quit drinking.
I celebrated five years sober. (!!!!!)
I passed through something, some darkness I have been navigating for 20 years. I have finally found my way to the home inside myself. I’ve opened the front door. I’ve stepped inside. Next year, I’ll figure out how to turn the lights on.
And, of course, I got to know Tina Turner better. 😉 This quote from the documentary TINA is my favorite of the year:
Look at what I have done in this lifetime with this body. I’m a girl from a cotton field that pulled myself above what was not taught to me.
I hope you have the very best new year. (“Simply the best,” perhaps?)
Keep pulling yourself above what was not taught to you.
Glessner House, located in Chicago’s Prairie Avenue Historic District, was designed by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1887.
Richardson studied at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which encouraged quick conceptual sketches and detailed perspective drawings that could and should be followed through to physical completion of a space.
In April 1886, Richardson completed the design for the house.
Three weeks later he was dead.
This sprawling residence was built for the Glessner family, wealthy from 19th Century manufacturing of agricultural equipment. It was home to a child who would grow up to be very important due to homes of a different scale: Frances Glessner Lee.
Frances was the first female police captain in the U.S. and “the mother of forensic science.” In her 40s, Frances began making miniature dioramas that depicted grisly murder scenes. The replicas were designed to be educational tools for homicide detectives and the fledgling field of medical examination and crime scene investigations.
Pictured: Detail of “Kitchen,” from the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths.
The dioramas, eventually becoming Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths, were precise — down to the make of the mousetrap and the bloat of the body. Many are still used today to train detectives, and the answers or real-life cases from which they were inspired remain under lock and key.
Also awesome? It’s rumored Frances was the character inspiration for everyone’s favorite brilliant amateur detective in gaudy baubles: Murder, She Wrote’s very own Jessica Fletcher.
Following, some pics I snapped on a recent tour of the place… No crime scenes evident!
Entrance, library and parlor
Dining room and kitchen details
Guest bed fireplace
Guest bed bathroom
Guest writing desk
Frances Glessner Lee childhood bedroom
Frances Glessner Lee childhood bedroom
Frances Glessner Lee reading nook
Frances Glessner Lee desk
Behind the scenes
In the park next door, visit the Clarke House Museum, Chicago’s oldest standing house built in 1836.
Right beside the Clarke House is the Louise Bourgeois tribute to social philosopher and activist Jane Addams.
“Perhaps nothing is so fraught with significance as the human hand…” — Jane Addams
I’m one shot deep into full inoculation. On my calendar, April 19, two weeks after our second shot, is circled in red, the outline of a wound, the unceremonious ending of a dread-full chugging along. I feel… complicated about it? I’ll be able to go hang out. Visit my masked neighbors. Be out again with people and friends. That makes me so happy but I am also shy about making plans, anxious about over-committing, afraid of under-committing. I feel like I have atrophied to my desk chair and the monotony of quarantine has emptied me, a hollowed tree trunk on its side. I have been growing behind a fence, having a conversation with myself in a gated space. And I feel trepidation about what to do once it is gone.
You agree to goat yoga at the Garfield Park Conservatory because you could use a break. A stretch break. And if baby goats are available for the whole process, why not include that little bonus of zoological Zen? Like fury parkour experts, these newborns. Or so you’ve assumed from YouTube videos of parkour and of baby goats.
When you arrive, you’re amazed at the conservatory’s calm and wonder why you have never been here before? Because you’re busy. You’re worried. You’re reading the news and staying up to date and even Story Corps advertisements are promising to “restore your faith in humanity,” which in-and-of-itself kinda does the trick because at least someone—even just a lonely NPR advertisement copywriter locked in a basement somewhere—is admitting people like you are getting nervous and feeling a little hopeless and climate change is real and ecoanxiety is also real (as of 2017, according to the American Psychological Association) and holy goats can we fix this or is it too late?
Regardless, all of this
makes you grateful for the conservatory’s sheltered plants and the gated teeny
triangle of prairie grass dotted with dandelions, which you’re now unfurling
your brand new yoga mat onto, puffs of glittering seeds rise up to the morning
sun. The L train zips by sporadically, charmingly. You begin to relax. You take
some deep breaths. Stretch. Break.
When the goats come off
the truck, you do everything you can to keep from squealing. But then you’re
squealing anyway. You’re squealing and hand clapping like a child and have zero
apologies for your excitement. Have you ever even seen a four-day old goat?
Been climbed by one? Petted the peach fuzz of one’s recently crowned head?
You can’t focus on the poses, but that’s OK. Goat yoga is ultimately more about the goat—more specifically, what the goat is giving you—than the yoga but eventually you settle in to a warrior two or something like that and stop watching the bobbling babies struggle to walk the knee high grass and you push your drooling mouth closed and pop your eyeballs back into your head. And you breathe.
You hear the L ricochet by one more time and give thanks for a place like this and for your ability to move freely to and from it at whatever pace you like. You feel your legs in your yoga pants, which you haven’t replaced in years because you read somewhere yoga-pants-plastics were harming the water systems, but you’re not thinking about that now. You’re thinking about nothing but what this exact moment feels like to be you.
A goat bleats and you smile even more because that shit sounds so desperate and it’s funny because what sounds like a scream is really just him saying, “Hi. Got food?.” You cup the warmth of the sun in your open, welcoming palms. You smile. For a moment, this moment, it feels like you’ve got the whole world in your hands. Even if it’s a fucked up one. This is enough and you are happy here.
Capturing America’s inconsistencies and contrasts is practically a pastime now for the average artist. We owe a tip of our baseball hats, emblazoned in racist symbology, to those who developed this aesthetic with such originality that their historical influence is practically cliché. I’m thinking the hard-nosed, coked in empathy narratives of Dorothea Lange; the searingly lonely dream-scaping of Edward Hopper (#1 all-time fave). An artist who deserves to be part of this lineup of artists that the gen pop rattles off when considering Great American Artists Who America-ed America is Robert Frank.
Actually, Frank, a photographer, was Swiss-American, and his new-citizen status gave his work a non-sentimentality surrounding American Life. In the 1950s, this translated to an incredibly unique source of truth for what was happening behind the technicolor and catchy slogans of the post-war pop culture.
I am always looking outside, trying to say something that is true. But maybe nothing is really true. Except what’s out there. And what’s out there is constantly changing.
In 1955, Frank got a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. For the assignment, he spent two years traveling the States with his family and taking photographs of everyday life in places like Detroit, Savannah, Miami Beach, LA, Salt Lake City, Butte (Montana), and (of course) Chicago. In those two years he took more than 25,000 photographs and 83 of them became The Americans, a book of images that “changed the nature of photography. What it could say and how it could say it,” wrote art critic Sean O’Hagan nearly six decades after the book’s publication in 1958. The Americans, he says, “remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.”
Frank’s imagery was subtle but impactful because grandiosity
took a backseat to themes of boredom, toil, and blind patriotism. These are
everyday Americans who live under the spell of American lore with a sort of
dumbfounded despair. (It feels achingly familiar to our social media age—ie. if
I’m supposed to be happy here, why am I so sad/mad?)
Frank’s compositions depicting race in America are particularly powerful. Prescient, even, considering hindsight of social photography and the incredible civil and human rights upheavals on the country’s horizon. This theme is, again, where Frank’s individual experiences and characteristics gave him a honed eye for making these observations about our country’s racial cruelty. As a Jewish man, he experienced profiling while photographing in the South. He was put in jail in Arkansas. Told he had an hour to leave town by a deep-South sheriff. This racism indelibly shaped his view of the country, which indelibly shaped everyone else’s view of it too. Moreover, he gave brutalized communities a chance to show their strengths, despite all they faced in 1950s America.
There are too many images, too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art anymore. Maybe it never was.
Technically, this book of essays from Rustbelt Publishing won’t be out until September 10, but you can pre-order your copy today for $20 here! I’m really excited to have my work included and can’t wait to get my hands (well, mostly my eyes) on it. Following, a description of the book from the publisher:
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods. Seventy-seven of them, formally; more than 200 in subjective, ever-changing fact. But what does that actually mean? The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, the latest in Belt’s series of idiosyncratic city guides (after Cleveland and Detroit), aims to explore community history and identity in a global city through essays, poems, photo essays, and art articulating the lived experience of its residents.
Edited by Belt senior editor Martha Bayne, the book builds on 2017’s critically acclaimed Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology. What did one pizzeria mean to a boy growing up in Ashburn? How can South Shore encompass so much beauty and so much pain? What’s it like to live in the Loop? Who’s got a handle on the ever-shifting identity of West Ridge? All this and more in this lyrical, subjective, completely non-comprehensive guide to Chicago. Featuring work by Megan Stielstra, Audrey Petty, Alex V. Hernandez, Sebastián Hidalgo, Dmitry Samarov, Ed Marszewski, Lily Be, Jonathan Foiles, and many more.
My short piece is about three must-try tiki bars and restaurants in Chicago: Three Dots and a Dash in River North, Lost Lake in Logan Square, and Hala Kahiki Tiki Bar & Lounge in River Grove (worth the commute out to the ‘burbs, my Chi-town friends; this place has been tiki-ing since 1964 and claims to be the Midwest’s most authentic tiki bar).
Sober pals, don’t let the tiki-theme tempt you into not checking out these kitschy fun spots. Nonalcoholic treats abound. Example: Hala Kahiki’s zero proof Fruit Punch, a mix of passion fruit, housemade grenadine, housemade Orgeat, orange, pineapple, lemon, and lime.
Thumbing through the magazine has already garnered some travel ideas for us to conquer this summer, like taking a trek to Springfield, Illinois, to try the world-famous “hot dog on a stick” at The Cozy Dog Drive In. I guess I’m just a suck for anything corny! (Get it? Corn dog. Ha. Ha.) What are your big (or small) summer plans?